How Streets are Plowed in Minneapolis

Snow plowing and ice control is performed by the Street Maintenance & Repair Division (a.k.a. the Street Division) of Minneapolis Public Works. From early November to late March, City staff monitor roadway and weather conditions 24-hours a day, seven days a week and can respond to winter conditions at any time with a variety of equipment and personnel. Proper and timely response to winter weather conditions is paramount to the safety of the traveling public, the economic viability of the city, and neighborhood livability.

When do we plow?

Public Works considers all winter precipitation events to be a form of winter weather emergency. Whether it's a freezing drizzle or a snowstorm that drops 14 inches of snow, appropriate crews are dispatched in response to the conditions. The response may range from a few sand/salt trucks to cover freezing bridge decks, to a full mobilization of up to 100 snow plows in a publicly declared Snow Emergency. Plow operators and support staff may work continuous back-to-back 12-hour shifts as necessary. Appropriate snow and ice control operations are always performed, regardless of whether or not the severity of the event warrants a Snow Emergency declaration.

Snow Emergency

City ordinance states that a Snow Emergency may be declared when conditions warrant that effective and complete plowing can only be accomplished when vehicles are not on the street and in the way. The declaration of a Snow Emergency is actually a trigger that initiates a predefined set of parking regulations that allow for the complete plowing of streets.

A typical Snow Emergency usually follows a sequence of events something like this:

As the first snow begins to fall, sand/salt trucks with underbody plows are dispatched to predetermined routes on the most heavily used streets to keep traffic flowing.

As the snow accumulation becomes plowable, motor graders and other plowing equipment are sent to bolster the effort.

When it is evident that a Snow Emergency declaration is required, Public Works officials will notify the media and the Citys 311 agents, update the 348-SNOW hotline and City website, send an e-alert to all Snow Emergency Alert subscribers and inform all other communications outlets. Snow plowing staff automatically gear up for 12-hour shifts to commence the Snow Emergency enforcement and plowing at 9 p.m., when all available equipment is put into operation. Tagging and towing are carefully coordinated with the plowing to move vehicles that aren't in compliance with Snow Emergency parking regulations.

Plowing of alleys will begin at an appropriate time during this period and will be completed in about 12 hours.

After the end of the three phases of the Snow Emergency, follow-up plowing, sanding and salting and miscellaneous clean up will follow for as long as is required.

There is no exact amount of snowfall that automatically defines the declaration of a Snow Emergency. Typically, a four- to five-inch snowfall will be enough to require one but previous accumulations, forecasted weather conditions and time of year all come into consideration when Public Works officials make decisions. No two snow events and circumstances are exactly alike, so each potential declaration requires careful consideration. For example, a 3½ inch snowfall in January, following some lighter accumulations, may require a Snow Emergency while a six inch snowfall in March with an anticipated immediate warming trend may not.

The basics

Snow and ice control is performed on the following:

To get some perspective, consider that each street must be plowed in two directions and many streets have multiple lanes. There are some 3,200 "lane miles" that, set end to end, would stretch from Minneapolis to Seattle and back! Also consider that our 3,700 alleys translate to about 400 miles, which means we have more miles of alleys to plow than most suburbs have streets!

City employees using City-owned equipment perform almost all of the snow and ice control in Minneapolis. The snow fighting fleet for street and alley plowing consists of:

What is the snow plowing budget?

The average annual cost for Minneapolis' snow and ice control effort is about $9 million. The budget is established to handle "normal" winter seasons. However the City budget process is on a calendar year so it is sometimes hard to answer the question, "So, how's your snow budget doing this season?" It starts all over again in January.

In a season or year with below average snowfalls, the majority of the budget is still required to cover the base cost for readiness. Even with very little snowfall, we still incur costs for base staffing and equipment and materials that we must have on hand.

Parking enforcement

When a Snow Emergency is declared, City Ordinance states that illegally parked vehicles may be impounded (tagged and towed) to provide for effective snow plowing. Contrary to some popular opinion, the Public Works Department is not in the business of towing cars to generate revenue. Our mission is to provide safe passage by plowing and clearing snow off the streets. Towing cars is time consuming, frustrating, difficult to coordinate, and hampers efforts to do an efficient and quality job. It would be better if people complied with the parking regulations so not a single car would have to be towed. Unfortunately, too many people either don't pay attention, or choose to ignore the rules – so ordinances and procedures were developed to deal with them.

Until a number of years ago, most complaints about enforcement were from people who were upset that their vehicle was towed. The tide turned in the mid-1990s to where the majority of the calls came from people complaining that the cars that were illegally parked on their street were not towed, resulting in a poor snow clearing. In response, Public Works has increased its towing capability to approximately 80 tow trucks that may remove, on average, 1,500 illegally parked vehicles each Snow Emergency. This is still only about 20 percent of the cars that are illegally parked.

The parking citations are issued under the authority of Hennepin County, so only a portion of the revenue from a ticket comes to the City. These funds are returned to the general fund that supports the snow plowing budget. All revenues generated by towing and Impound Lot storage fees are used to compensate towing contractors and support the operation and maintenance of the Minneapolis Impound Lot.

Last updated Jan 31, 2012